This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

A review of the non-fiction memoir This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.

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This is Going to Hurt is a series of anecdotes by Adam Kay about his time spent as a trainee junior doctor within the NHS in the early 2000s. The book chronicles his training through to his eventual resignation from a career in the health service to become a comedian and writer.

I bought this book after seeing Kay on a television programme, where his renditions of some of the situations he found himself in were quite funny. Considering I don’t have a great sense of humour, this gave me hope that I would enjoy the book. After reading it, however, I am in two minds.

On the one hand, I found that the book provided a very real look at the plight of health workers and shows what it is really like for NHS staff on a day-to-day basis, which was initially fascinating. At the start of the book, humour is used heavily alongside some real hardship, which I presume was a coping strategy. This humour fades out gradually, revealing to the reader an event—the event that caused Adam Kay to change profession.

On the other hand, unfortunately, I did find myself somewhat disappointed by the book as it went on. The book itself is well-written for what it is, but what it is ostensibly is just a somewhat fleshed-out collection of notes. There is virtually no substance to the anecdotes. I wanted to empathise with either Adam Kay or with the patients, but I found myself unable to feel the plight that he was trying to convey. I could understand it and I knew it from reading, but I couldn’t feel it, as there was no connection. That meant the emotional impact that the book is supposed to have didn’t resonate with me particularly. It is hard to feel sympathy for patients when you know nothing about them. Some of the situations Mr Kay describes are truly gruesome but, as there is no follow through on the patients—once their anecdote has been told it never really comes up again—I found it difficult to even see them as real life sometimes. I’m sure that they are true accounts, but they didn’t always feel authentic, and that is a problem in a non-fiction book. This extended beyond the patients to the staff, and to the author himself. Sadly I found I had very little personal connection with Kay through his writing. I wanted to feel his pain at being mistreated, neglected, or literally having someone else’s life in his hands, but I just found I was detached. The connection could have been stronger if I’d seen how that the experiences he documents had affected him personally, either in his life outside work or with some kind of emotional resonance. Instead, it was more of a list of things that happened.

I was interested in the book because Kay is a likeable TV personality and is—to me—funny. There were definitely comical moments, but it didn’t quite deliver what I feel was intended. As the main focus of the book is on the toll on health workers—specifically junior doctors—working in the NHS, I wish it had more of an emotional impact. I know that NHS workers have a horrible time and are underappreciated. I knew that before I read the book, and whilst This is Going to Hurt definitely reinforced that, there wasn’t the hit in the gut that I was expecting.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite deliver for me. It had its moments, and if it’s a topic that you’re interested in, you might find something in it that I didn’t. It’s definitely not, however, for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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